Working on women’s hockey
by Joe McFarland
Almost as soon as the Vancouver 2010 competition began, the questions started swirling about whether or not women’s hockey belonged in the Olympics. Was the field competitive enough or would it be another Canada vs. USA gold medal final?
As I write this, the Canadian women are receiving their gold medals while the Americans stand by with their silver. According to many of the detractors, this final between the two rival countries was bad for the sport and for any country outside of Canada.
The Canadian women outscored their opposition 46-2 in the Olympic round robin; the Americans outscored their opponents 40-2 in that same tournament. How can domination like this be good for any sport?
You have to remember that women’s hockey has only been an Olympic sport since 1998. Canada has now won gold three out of four Olympics, while the USA won back in the inaugural year.
If you go back in men’s hockey history, Canada won gold six out of the first seven years it was an Olympic sport starting in 1920. In fact, in its second year of Olympic existence (1924), Canada outscored their opposition 85-0 in three games. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that we saw the score begin to even out, and even then it was still fairly lopsided.
The International Olympic Committee came out on the day of the gold medal game to say that if countries didn’t start investing in women’s hockey that it may removed from the Olympics.
The trouble is that even if funding and promotion begins tomorrow, it will take a good 10-12 years before we start seeing the fruits of that labour.
Why? You have to start with the younger generation for those five or six-year-old girls to fully develop into quality hockey players. It’s similar to what you are seeing in men’s hockey now.
Wayne Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles in 1988 and excitement around the sport on the American West Coast peaked in 1993 when the Kings went to the Stanley Cup. And now, 17 years later, you are seeing some high-end hockey talent joining the ranks of the Canadian and National Hockey Leagues from California.
Maybe some of the women’s training needs to happen in North America. After this Olympic Games, many will be looking at Finnish goaltender Noora Raty as a legitimate star. Imagine how much better she could become if she played in Canada, only to go back to her homeland once in a while to show young Finnish girls about playing hockey and become a role model and icon.
Perhaps the opposite could happen where Canadian hockey players and coaches head to other nations to help promote the sport.
One of the things Canada did this year was train with a 60-game schedule against midget ‘AAA’ boys’ teams throughout Alberta. That training isn’t happening elsewhere. But it is possible for other countries to get to that same point and start to fully challenge the now three-time Olympic champion Team Canada.
Patience will definitely be needed. But imagine what would have happened had men’s hockey been taken off the Olympic map after several years of Canadian domination?
—Joe McFarland is the arena host for the Medicine Hat Tigers as well as one of the three brainchildren behind the Three Guys, One Radio Show podcast.